As you may know, I'm a member of Cross Creek Community Church. This past year we've been
Raising the Roof, a program based on the book of the same name
by Alice Mann and designed to help our church develop better processes as we grow from pastoral size to program size.
One finding of our Raising the Roof program was that Cross Creek needs better processes to manage our relationships with our visitors and members. Manage? Relationships? Visitors and members? If that makes you think of Customer Relationship Management (CRM) software, then you're not far off. There's a niche industry for church CRM software, though they don't call it CRM but rather ChMS or Church Management Systems. However ChMS websites and salespeople do still reek of corporate jargon, mixed in with some Jesus and Kingdom talk.
Our Raising the Roof team leader found some ChMS software that seemed promising, ConnectionPower, a package that includes four modules, PowerVisitor, PowerMember, PowerWeb and PowerGiving. ConnectionPower is not just a software package but rather is a theory for managing church visitors and members, the process for which is carried out through use of the software. Churches get volunteers willing to call visitors, and a membership director uses PowerVisitor to assign volunteers visitors to call. The volunteers get their assignments by e-mail and they log into PowerVisitor to report back on their interactions with visitors—what are visitors' interests or concerns, etc. PowerMember does stuff like notice when members' regular attendance varies, triggering alerts for them to be called to see if they have any life problems, etc.
Sounds cool, doesn't it? I'd never heard of ConnectionPower before, so I did some googling and discovered that churches who use ConnectionPower's PowerWeb module for their websites all seem to have the phrase "Copyright © ConnectionPower.com" at the bottom of their pages (and have a main directory of "/pwsite/"). I also noticed that these churches using PowerWeb have names like Trinity Assembly of God or Family Christian Center or The Pentecostals of Cooper City or New Life Covenant Pilsen Ministry. The names alone would make a guy like me wonder how welcome I'd be at these churches (sure, they'd welcome me, but I bet only if I were willing to repent).
ConnectionPower's website, like its software, is about more than just a software package. In addition to information about the software, there's also a section, called PowerGrowth Plus!, devoted to the theology of the company and its founder, Allen Ratta, and featuring some rather revealing articles§ and book recommendations¶, none of which led me to think Ratta or his company would be so progressive as to embrace, for example, gay liberation theology.
I shared my concerns about Ratta's theology with the team evaluating ChMS software and asked if we couldn't find ChMS software companies run by or marketing to progressive Christians. The consensus was, however, that the team should continue to consider ConnectionPower because it seemed like a good package and we'd be buying the software, not the theology.
A demo over the Internet was arranged with a salesperson from ConnectionPower, and we got to see more of the neat stuff the software can do, including allowing members to log into a private section of a church's website to update their addresses and the ability to generate an online church directory.
The pages we were shown seemed to include families whose names were all in the format "Mr. and Mrs. Smith," so I asked the salesperson whether the software could handle couples with different last names. She said she didn't know what I meant, and I said, what if a woman keeps her maiden name when she gets married. She said, "Wow, I've never been asked that question before," so I didn't bother continuing down the path to ask what if a couple were both men or both women. (No woman who goes to a evangelical church is allowed to use her own last name?!)
is based on a
"traditional family model"
We finished the demo, and the team decided that the ConnectionPower software would be a worthwhile investment for Cross Creek to make. A few weeks later our church council approved making the purchase, and it seemed that we'd be implementing the software starting in 2007.
Except that the question of what if a couple were both men or both women really was a question we should have asked at the demo because it turns out the answer is that in the eyes of ConnectionPower, same-sex couples are two individuals who aren't related. The software will not allow you to link two individuals of the same gender as a family. Such couples can of course be entered as individuals, but they'll be listed separately in the online church directory, receive separate mailings, etc. That may be acceptable, or even desirable, for the vast majority of churches using ConnectionPower, but it just won't work for Cross Creek.
Our Raising the Roof team leader, after having been ignored for several weeks by the salesperson about this issue and some other questions, finally e-mailed ConnectionPower founder Allen Ratta himself. Ratta replied yesterday that while he doesn't want to dictate theology, the ConnectionPower software is based on a "traditional family model" and would be difficult to change. Well, none of us on the team believe that changing the software to allow for same-sex couples in a family unit would really be all that difficult to change, and thus Cross Creek Community Church will not be juxtaposed alongside ConnectionPower customers like Antioch, the Apostolic Church.
One church, however, that Cross Creek is now positioned alongside is the Cathedral of Hope in Dallas, the world's largest gay church, which was officially welcomed Oct. 29th into the United Church of Christ. With 4,300 members, Cathedral of Hope counts as a mega-church and probably knows a thing or two about ChMS.
What's the big comma about? Well, as Gracie Allen said, "Never place a period where God has placed a comma," or in other words, "God is still speaking." I'll update you further as Cross Creek continues to explore how we can connect powerfully to our visitors and members.